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Teflon Bibi turns crisis into uplift

    Yishai got the blame for the poor state of the fire service
    Yishai got the blame for the poor state of the fire service

    In the run up to last year's general election which made him prime minister, some pundits referred to Binyamin Netanyahu as "Teflon Netanyahu". That was to say, political and PR disasters did not seem to scathe him.

    Through his initial decisive response, Mr Netanyahu managed to present himself as part of the solution more than part of the problem - by giving the impression that the poor shape of the fire service has more to do with previous governments than with him. In the Maariv poll, a third of respondents blamed him and previous governments equally, 36.1 per cent blamed previous governments, and only 17.3 per cent blamed him.

    And two factors since the fire have enabled him to keep this positive perception going.

    The first is the unpopularity of Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who became the bogeyman of many Israelis back in the summer when he pushed forward a plan (not yet implemented) to deport 400 Israeli-born children of foreign workers and their parents whose visas have expired. Further lowering his popularity is the fact that he leads Shas, the strictly-Orthodox Sephardic party, which many Israelis dislike due to its sectarian agenda. When the State Comptroller's report, issued last week, said that responsibility for the state of the fire service rested "first and foremost" with Mr Yishai and his ministry, it was a godsend for Mr Netanyahu.

    The second factor is Mr Netanyahu's clear assessment of what annoys Israelis most about government conduct, and insistence that his government will be different. Israelis perceive their government as sluggish when it comes to dealing with citizens whose lives have been disrupted. Across the political spectrum there is dismay that many settlers who left Gaza during the disengagement of 2005 still do not have permanent homes.

    "In order to hasten the work and reduce bureaucracy, today I am submitting a draft proposal to cancel the need for tenders in the rehabilitation work," he announced at a cabinet meeting on Sunday. He also promised that the government is "quickly implementing the two main lessons - establishing a national fire and an aerial fire-fighting force". A smooth resolution to the problems raised by the fire would be valuable for Mr Netanyahu in electoral terms. In last year's election, his campaign against Kadima leader Tzipi Livni focussed on the claim that she was out of her depth and unable to make big decisions. He would love to repeat that claim next time, presenting himself as the tried and tested alternative.

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